Written by Steven Hansen
The ISM Manufacturing survey continues to indicate manufacturing growth expansion – however there was a modest decrease in the rate of growth. But the key internal new orders significantly declined (but still remains well into expansion).
The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) declined from 58.7 to 55.5 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was slightly below expectations which were 56.3 to 58.7 (consensus 57.5).
This index had been in a general uptrend since mid 2013, the three month trend has been roller coasting, but still remains above 55. This is the seventeenth month of expansion. The regional Fed manufacturing surveys were indicating growth (except one district) in December, and now the ISM indicates manufacturing shows expansion in December also.
Relatively deep penetration of this index below 50 has normally resulted in a recession.
The noisy Backlog of Orders declined from 55.0 to 52.5 – but remains in expansion. Backlog growth is an indicator of improving conditions; a number below 50 indicates contraction. Backlog accuracy does not have a high correlation against actual data.
Excepts from the ISM release:
Economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in December for the 19th consecutive month, and the overall economy grew for the 67th consecutive month, say the nation’s supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®.
The December PMI® registered 55.5 percent, a decrease of 3.2 percentage points from November’s reading of 58.7 percent. The New Orders Index registered 57.3 percent, a decrease of 8.7 percentage points from the reading of 66 percent in November. The Production Index registered 58.8 percent, 5.6 percentage points below the November reading of 64.4 percent. The Employment Index registered 56.8 percent, an increase of 1.9 percentage points above the November reading of 54.9 percent. Inventories of raw materials registered 45.5 percent, a decrease of 6 percentage points from the November reading of 51.5 percent. The Prices Index registered 38.5 percent, down 6 percentage points from the November reading of 44.5 percent, indicating lower raw materials prices in December relative to November. Comments from the panel are mixed, with some indicating that falling oil prices have an upside while others indicate a downside. Other comments mention the negative impact on imported materials shipment due to the West Coast dock slowdown.
Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 11 are reporting growth in December in the following order: Printing & Related Support Activities; Fabricated Metal Products; Primary Metals; Furniture & Related Products; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; Petroleum & Coal Products; Textile Mills; Paper Products; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; and Transportation Equipment. The six industries reporting contraction in December — listed in order — are: Plastics & Rubber Products; Wood Products; Machinery; Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Chemical Products; and Computer & Electronic Products.
It is interesting to note that ISM Manufacturing represents less than 10% of USA employment, and approximately 20% of the business economy. Historically, it could be argued that the production portion of ISM Manufacturing leads the Fed’s Industrial Production index – however the correlation is not strong when looking at trends.
New orders have direct economic consequences. Expanding new orders is a relatively reliable sign a recession is NOT imminent. However, New Orders contraction have given false recession warnings twice since 2000.
However, holding this and other survey’s Econintersect follows accountable for their predictions, the following graph compares the hard data from Industrial Products manufacturing subindex (blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (red bar) to the ISM Manufacturing Survey (purple bar).
Comparing Surveys to Hard Data
Caveats on the use of ISM Manufacturing Index:
This is a survey, a quantification of opinion – not facts and data. However, as pointed out above, certain elements of this survey have good to excellent correlation to the economy. Surveys lead hard data by weeks to months, and can provide early insight into changing conditions.
Many use ISM manufacturing for guidance in estimating manufacturing employment growth. Econintersect has run correlation coefficients for the ISM manufacturing employment and the BLS manufacturing employment data series above going back to 1988, using quarterly data. The coincident correlations are actually negative, but poor (r = -0.2 to -0.4 for various time periods examined). See here for definitions.
Before 2000 the ISM employment data had a weak positive correlation to the BLS data 4 to 7 quarters later (r values above 0.6). Since 2000 the correlations for ISM manufacturing employment as a leading indicator for the BLS manufacturing employment have been between 0 and 0.3 for r (correlation coefficient). These values define correlations as none to poor.
In other words, ISM employment index is not useful in understanding manufacturing jobsgrowth. The graph below shows BLS manufacturing employment month-over-month gains against the ISM Manufacturing employment index.
Indexed to Jan 2000 – Comparison of the ISM Manufacturing Employment Subindex (blue line) to BLS Manufacturing Employment (red line) – all data seasonally adjusted
The ISM employment index appears useful in predicting turning points which can lead the BLS data up to one year.
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